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Product
Development
Overview



Numerical Solutions product development activities vary greatly between projects, but typically center around small data acquisition and control projects designed to work in industrial environments. This web page discusses Numerical Solutions design ideology as well as how some design issues are addressed. Numerical Solutions can provide the necessary project management to ensure that the product is developed in the shortest possible time frame. Flexibility and dynamic prioritization being some of the key ingredients to successfully managing the product to it's completion.

Other areas in which Numerical Solutions can also provide services can be found on the home page.


Requirements analysis

Arguably the most important aspect of the design process is the establishment of requirements. Knowing considerable detail about what you want to build is a fundamental step in fast efficient product development. Even if the product being developed is for an application that is perhaps not fully understood, or is a first of a kind, requirements analysis is key to smooth product development. In this situation more time has to be spent studying and collecting data on the application to help formulate the requirements.

While establishing a solid set of requirements seems like a fairly obvious step. It is also a stage which can cost a considerable amount money with out producing tangible results. Thus, ironically, there is a tendency to cut this stage short in an effort to speed up the development process when, in fact, it is being slowed down by giving the product ambiguous design parameters. Ultimately, shortening the requirements analysis phase lengthens the rest of the development stages, and is a true "false economy".

A solid set of requirements can be equated to "the guiding light" in the design process and Numerical Solutions uses this philosophy in all projects.


Embedded control

There are many ways to embed a computer into a product, however some designs are superior to others for a given application. Careful review of the product life cycle, costs, maintenance and support issues, as well as customer requirements come into play in selecting the right embedded computer strategy. Numerical Solutions generally works with PCs for larger products, or modified single board computers (SBC) made by an SBC manufacturer for small applications (including OEM products).

For more complex situations, Numerical Solutions can provide the necessary consulting, and the proper technical liaison among all parties involved. Bridging the gap between the customers that need a product to solve a problem but may not have the necessary background, and the many computer/control vendors is key to successful embedded product development.

For many small companies outsourcing this type product development is usually the most practical situation. Unless the company is involved in the development of electronic equipment they usually lack most of the personnel and equipment required to logically execute the development process. Buying equipment and hiring personnel can solve this problem, but it can be hard to justify the expense if there is not an ongoing development program in place. Outsourcing brings in the right people with the right expertise to get the job done efficiently. After completion of the product and training of the customers support staff, the expense of the development effort can be completely removed from the company.

Data logger development environment

This pictures shows a typical embedded development environment. The white box on the left houses a HC11 single board computer with a 128x128 LCD display. Interaction with the development platform is via serial port. The embedded software is written and cross compiled on a PC, and the resulting binary image is then loaded on to an EPROM emulator for execution on the target hardware. In this case the development platform also houses a number of input simulators as well as a power supply.


Data acquisition

Data acquisition is essentially the process of recording data from a number of sensors attached to something of interest to the designer. Data acquisition in its many forms can be a very powerful design tool. This is especially true when designing products that will implement empirical algorithms. In other words, using history and measured results to establish the behavior of a product. Data acquisition also gives insight into many processes as to what is actually happening, or it can provide data that challenges what was thought to happen.

Data acquisition can be accomplished in variety of different ways. Depending on whether the situation is a "one off" field trial, a SCADA data center, or an OEM data collector product, Numerical Solutions can provide the expertise to find the right solution.

Good empirical data from the field using sound data acquisition techniques can provide a solid basis from which to successfully design an excellent product.


Product Prototypes

The construction of a product prototype represents the first stage of real world testing of all the design components working together. While some feel that this step can be bypassed in order to speed up the design time, for any type of OEM product this is potentially full of pitfalls. The worst situation is having to perform a recall after having marketed and sold the product - a very expensive solution. Clearly, a prototype is a good solution in finding many design flaws and should be considered an integral part of the design process. Numerical Solutions will develop prototypes for proof of concept purposes to full production prototype units.

Prototype Torque Limiter M1

In the above picture, the first prototype Torque Limiter M1 shuts down a PC pump oil well for the first time on high torque. The sometimes messy nature of field testing shows in the picture.


Physical hardening for severe environments

Many industrial products incorporating electronics are subjected to harsh environments. Designing for severe environments often requires special/industrial or military grade components, and this ultimately slows down the design process as these parts are usually special order and require extended lead times. Using premium components also increases the price of the product by 10 to 30 % depending on the parts used.

On the positive side, the gains in performance and reliability easily justify the added expense and difficulties. Measuring the cost savings from improved reliability is difficult at the best of times, but it can be summarized in:

In many industrial settings, product failure leads to down time that is far more expensive then the original cost of the product, thus sacrificing product quality for small savings is a true "false economy". Numerical Solutions always works towards producing the highest quality product while keeping costs under control.

test chamber1    test chamber2

Shown above is a simple portable low temperature test chamber in operation. In this case the customer was on a very tight budget that precluded the purchase or renting of an environmental test chamber. Instead, dry ice was used as a cooling medium to test a prototype data logger destined to work outdoors, in the Canadian winters. Test temperatures were below -50C, with the datalogger continuing to function, while the LCD started to lose readability after -30C.

TL M1 assembly 1    TL M1 assembly 2

A very high levels of physical protection is provided by the extruded aluminum enclosure shown above. While it usually is not necessary, it certainly makes the product significantly more rugged at reasonable cost.


Production strategies

Producing a product can be relatively trouble free. Depending on the background of the company, one can create a full inhouse production line for the product, or more likely, outsource the fabrication of the product to the appropriate assembly house. Companies not directly involved in the manufacturing of electronics are usually far better off to incur the slight increase in cost and outsource this type of work. Avoiding the associated electronic manufacturing complexities can make incorporation into the product line much smoother. Once a product design is finalized Numerical Solutions will setup all the required procedures to allow the company to produce the product. This would include coordination of component vendors and assembly shops; bill of materials; procedures and manufacturing documentation/instructions; testing procedures.

Quality Control

Quality control allows the company one last chance to insure the product is in working order before it is delivered to the customer. It also is an important source of feedback as to how well the company is manufacturing the product. Ultimately quality control is a very important step in the product manufacturing process, and should be setup to operate inhouse so that tight control over quality can be maintained. Numerical Solutions recommends designing automated test equipment and procedures for any kind of product other than the smallest of production runs. Automated test equipment also can greatly facilitate field troubleshooting and thus reduce downtime.

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